Rights based approach needed to address HIV/AIDS threat

Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, Chairperson made a presentation at the panel discussion organized by UNAIDS and OHCHR on "HIV/AIDS and role of National Institutions at Geneva" on 12 April 2005. He mentioned the initiatives taken by the National Human Rights Commission of India in the context of emerging HIV/AIDS threat facing India. He said that HIV/AIDS has emerged as a serious public health crisis, which requires a multi-pronged and multi-disciplinary approach. What makes this disease unique is the atmosphere of silence, denial, fear, prejudice, stigma and discrimination surrounding it, he said. All these characteristics, he opined, underline the importance of a rights-based response to address the impact of the pandemic. The discrimination takes extreme forms, which results in denial of care and treatment, removal from employment and education, insurance, medical benefits and ostracisation. Recognizing it as an important issue, he said, the National Human Rights Commission of India has been taking steps since 2000 to address the matter.
The Chairperson in his presentation stated that the Commission has intervened in a number of individual cases relating to discrimination faced by persons affected/infected by HIV/AIDS with regard to access to medical treatment facilities and education. The Commission's intervention in a recent case has secured proper medical treatment to an AIDS patient at a Government Hospital in Delhi. The unemployed HIV positive patient had complained to the Commission on 18 September 2003 that he had been denied proper treatment by Government and non-Government hospitals in Delhi.
The Commission, he said, in partnership with other key agencies organized a National Conference on Human Rights and HIV/AIDS in New Delhi in November 2000. The Conference was a part of a series of consultations on "Health and Human Rights" planned by the NHRC, which elicited broad-based participation and enabled participants to scrutinize the status of HIV/AIDS protection, control and healthcare within the framework of Human Rights.
Based on the deliberations of the National Conference, systemic recommendations on various aspects of 'Human Rights & HIV/AIDS' were sent to the authorities concerned in the Central Government and in various States. They cover areas like consent and testing, confidentiality, discrimination in health care, women in vulnerable environments and marginalized populations.
On 25 November 2003 supplementary recommendations were sent by NHRC to all States/Union Territories in regard to tackling mother-to-child transmission of the virus. It was mentioned that Public health action should focus on preventing mother to child transmission of the virus and measures to achieve this objective should receive prioritized attention from health policy makers at both central and state levels.
The Commission, Justice Anand said, is deeply concerned about the rights of children affected/infected by HIV/AIDS, and has recommended a number of steps to all States/UTs, which include -

· Enact and enforce legislation to prevent children living with HIV/AIDS from being discriminated against, including being barred from attending schools;
· Address school fees and related costs that keep children especially girls, from going to school;
· Provide all children both in and out of school, with comprehensive, accurate and age-appropriate information about HIV/AIDS;
· Provide care and protection to children whose parents are unable to care for them due to HIV/AIDS.

The Chairperson also highlighted the fact that the Commission has established a Focal Point to handle all issues related to Human Rights and HIV/AIDS and designated a Member to be the Focal Point. It has also organized five regional public hearings and one National Public hearing on Right to Health Care between July-December 2004 at which, among other issues, HIV/AIDS was also taken up.